The State of the Environment Report claims managing invasive species is ‘currently beyond the resources available’ … we disagree

Feral Herald |

Every five years, the Australian Government is supposed to release a State of the Environment Report, a lengthy report card that pulls together everything we know about how our environment is faring and the direction it’s heading in. We were slated to receive the latest edition in 2021, but the previous administration chose to lock it away until after the 2022 Federal Election in May.

The newly elected Labor government committed to releasing this report during the election campaign, and made good on that commitment last week.

The report is over 2,500 pages long, packed with information that we will be busy pouring through for many weeks to come. A full 16 of those pages are dedicated to the threat of invasive species in the Biodiversity chapter alone, more than any other threat. But here’s a much shorter summary of what we’ve found so far.

Andrew Cox, Invasive Species Council CEO, with Australia’s new Environment & Water Minister Tanya Plibersek at the official launch of the 2021 State of the Environment Report.

The good:

  1. This year was the first time Indigenous Australians co-authored the report. It rightly emphasises the connection between the wellbeing of Country and the wellbeing of people by tapping into tens of thousands of years of deep knowledge.
  2. Citizen science has rapidly increased, resulting in improved observations of the environment and more data that, in turn, supports more effective management.
  3. For the first time, the conservation status of an Australian species — the eastern barred bandicoot — was reclassified from extinct in the wild to endangered. This was thanks to three decades of captive breeding and releases in seven pest-free enclosures and islands.

The bad:

  1. Every category of the Australian environment, except for urban areas, have deteriorated since 2016. Climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction are causing rapid environmental declines and increasing the number of threatened species.
  2. Since 2016, two species have been officially declared extinct — the Christmas Island pipistrelle (due to predation by invasive species) and the Bramble Cay melomys (due to the impacts of climate change). In addition, large areas of central and northern Australia have experienced declines in crucial Melaleuca wetlands and billabongs due to feral water buffalo, pigs and cattle.
  3. Invasive species were again identified as the most prevalent threat to Australian wildlife and are the primary cause of extinction events since colonisation.
  4. There are more non-native plant species than native plant species in Australia.
  5. Australia has had more modern mammal extinctions than any other continent.
A figure from the 2021 State of the Environment Report showing the 10 invasive species affecting the most of Australia’s 1,533 nationally-listed threatened native species. Data from Kearney et al. 2018.

The disappointing:

  1. Australia’s investment in conserving our environment is not up to the challenge. The 2021 State of the Environment Report confirmed what we published in our recent Averting Extinctions report, that the funding allocated to our environment is a shrinking fraction of what it needs to be. Our report found the amount we spend per nationally listed threatened species is less than a tenth than what the US Government spends.
  2. There was little to no mention of how effective biosecurity is at protecting our environment and way of life. The invasion curve shows us how much cheaper and more effective it is to prevent new invasive species, or eradicate newly arrived invaders, than it is to deal with an invasive species that has established and spread to the point where eradication is no longer feasible. Australia’s biosecurity system is in desperate need of strengthening, and that’s why we’re campaigning so hard for the Decade of Biosecurity.
  3. The report overview concludes invasive species management is ‘a huge challenge that is currently beyond the resources available’. We disagree, and believe statements like this send the wrong message. Australians across the country are proving each and every day how we can successfully manage invasive species. The Wet Tropics Management Authority in Cairns is seeing positive results from its yellow crazy ant eradication program, the Lord Howe Island Board achieved the world’s first eradication of myrtle rust in 2018, private conservation groups releasing captive-bred eastern barred bandicoots into feral predator-free areas were behind them recently being taken off the extinct in the wild list, and organisations like Gamba Grass Roots are spurring broadscale community buy-in to control some of Australia’s worst weeds. Invasive species management is as possible as it is necessary. What we’re missing is the political will from federal, state, territory and local governments to provide the policies and investments that make successful invasive species management commonplace.
Gamba Grass Roots members
The Top End community campaign Gamba Grass Roots was awarded a 2021 Froggatt Award by the Invasive Species Council for their work tackling one of Australia’s most alarming invasive species.

The 2021 State of the Environment Report makes for incredibly grim reading. But its two big lessons are that it’s not too late and that Australia’s native wildlife can’t afford us throwing invasive species management into the “too hard basket”.

This report needs to spark urgent change. We need vastly more investment in our environment, we need a major overhaul to Australia’s environmental policy and we need to support decisive action on the invasive species. Most of all, we will need your support to make all of this happen.

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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]